Saudi Arabia at a Glance
Moving to Saudi ArabiaiStockphoto
Saudi Arabia, the Desert Kingdom, is home to nearly six million foreign residents.
With millions of foreigners working in the biggest economy in the Middle East, expats moving to Saudi Arabia will find they’re in good company in the “Land of the Two Holy Mosques”. According to estimates from 2011, there are between eight and nine million non-Saudi residents. However, don’t be fooled by the sheer numbers of foreigners moving to Saudi Arabia: The desert kingdom is far from being an open, multicultural society; it’s rather one marked by strict rules and traditions, which those moving to Saudi Arabia should take into account.
Moving to Saudi Arabia: The Country
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as it is officially known, was founded in 1932. Non-Muslims moving to Saudi Arabia should be aware that their destination prides itself on being the birthplace of Islam, and that religion is an all-pervasive principle in public and private life.
Ever since its inception, the country has been ruled by the Al Saud family, and the current king Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz functions as both head of state and prime minister. Expats moving to Saudi Arabia should therefore not be surprised at the absence of political parties or other forms of public participation in politics.
The ulema on the other hand, a body of Islamic religious leaders and legal scholars, plays a direct role in government. Westerners moving to Saudi Arabia will inevitably be targeted by the religious police, called mutaween, or officially the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who ensure that decency and decorum are observed in public.
Move to Saudi Arabia: The People
Moving to Saudi Arabia demands a high degree of flexibility and adaptability if you are not used to living in a restrictive society. Hospitality is held up as a great virtue by Saudis, but that does not mean the devout will tolerate behavior that is not in accordance with the teachings of the Quran. Foreigners moving to Saudi Arabia are expected to comply with the written and unwritten rules of the country.
Among other things, expats moving to Saudi Arabia should be prepared for and ready to accept the following: Gender segregation is common in almost all public places, and women are very restricted in their freedom of movement and expression. However, King Abdullah recently granted Saudi women the right to vote and run in municipal elections as of 2015. Expatriate women moving to Saudi Arabia may find these restrictions hard to cope with.
As Saudis are very religious people, foreigners moving to Saudi Arabia are strongly advised to refrain from anything that might offend their hosts, such as consuming alcohol in public, dressing indecently (by Saudi standards) or openly practicing a religion other than Islam.
Moving to Saudi Arabia: The Climate
However, a move to Saudi Arabia will not only trigger culture shock among expats, but also temperature shock: In some places, daytime temperatures can rise as high as 50° C in the height of summer. Everyone moving to Saudi Arabia from colder climes should be well aware of the effects this might have on their health and constitution. (Don’t forget that you can’t just take off your clothes and jump into nearest pool, either, especially not if you’re a woman.)
As most of the country is made up of desert or semi-desert shrubland, there is practically no rainfall all year round. The only exception is the Asir region, which is influenced by the monsoon from the Indian Ocean.